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Wood Identifiers: Spotting Grains, Deposits, and Other Characteristics

by Jake Park 

If you are anything like me, you might know the names of different types of woods but could never actually point them out or state a unique identifier for each one.

For starters, there are SO many different kinds and it can get deep and layered once you really start getting into the thick of it. More than likely you would feel overwhelmed and turn to a professional for their opinion and knowledge.

But fear not my friendly readers! This blog post is here to help. We are going to go through some of the most common species of wood and break down some key identifiers.

Keep in mind that no two wood types are the same (not even if they have similar names). Grain variation and color change should be expected when owning anything made of solid wood.

As the wood ages, it may darken when exposed to light or change color when exposed to harsh chemicals, moisture or extreme heat. Wood species will have their own defined characteristics whether from the type of wood itself or the environment in which the tree grew up in.

Mineral deposits, knots, sap runs, pin holes and wormholes are the most common characteristics that you will find. With all of that being said, lets get started!

  1. Oak. Oak wood is a strong, open-grained hardwood that ranges in color from white to pink and reddish tones. Streaks of green, yellow and even black may appear due to mineral deposits in the ground from where the tree was growing before it was cut. Oak may also contain wormholes and wild, varying grain patterns. The distinct graining is considered a desirable quality in Oak. See the differences in the images below.
  • Hickory. Hickory is a sturdy, heavy hardwood known for its distinctive grain patterns. Random knots and wormholes are the two most frequent features that you will find in this wood species. Hickory is known for having a dramatic appearance in terms of its color, it can go from white to dark brown within the same piece of wood. However, those with a true understanding of Hickory expect and desire both the features and color variation that Hickory provides naturally.
  • Alder. Alder has a straight, fine textured grain most like Cherry & Maple. Although Alder is classified as a hardwood. It is moderately light in weight and significantly softer than many other wood species. Alder requires the most care as it is known to dent and mar very easily. Tight pin knots, sap runs, and grain and color variation will be present in Alder wood.
  • Maple. Maple is a close-grained hardwood that is predominately white to cream-white in color with occasional reddish-brown tones. Maple is typically very uniform in its texture but will contain characteristics such as fine brown lines, wavy and/or curly graining, bird pecks and mineral streaks.
  • Cherry. Cherry wood is characterized mostly by its red undertones, but it is known to vary in color from white to a deep, rich brown. Cherry wood is like Maple wood in that it is very uniform in its texture. However, pin knots and curly graining are two of its main distinguishing traits. A sought-after quality of Cherry wood is that it is a wood that ages with time and the natural color will darken the longer it remains exposed.

Want a further explanation on something mentioned in this post? What did you find the most interesting? What wood would you like to learn more about? Reach out in the comments and let me know! I love to hear from and interact with all moderntimbecraft.com followers!

Photo Credit: Wood-Database

Jake Park
I am a timber expert and serial woodworker dedicated to helping you get educated about the finest woods and materials in the world. Join in my journey on the Modern Timber Craft blog.

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